I’m back from my second BlogPaws conference, exhausted but happy at the prospect of yet another fantastic success. I think everyone had a wonderful time (Kate’s attempt to sneak a bottle of wine into the Saturday event and subsequently getting busted by a beverage services manager who takes his job EXTREMELY seriously notwithstanding.)
To do the conference justice in one post would be impossible. To do it in three or four would still be paltry. However, if for no reason other than I promised myself while hysterically weeping in front of the entire conference that some good would come out of my public breakdown, I have to at least address the keynote speech.
To back up just a stitch for those new to the blog, BlogPaws is a pet blogging conference that took place over the weekend in Denver, Colorado. The inaugural BlogPaws event took place just this past April in Columbus, and was such an overwhelmingly positive experience that the organizers decided to do it all over again a mere 5 months later. Insanity, I tell you.
I was so excited to hear that Mike Arms would be giving the opening keynote address. Mike is the president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego. As a local, I can tell you this is one of the most amazing animal care facilities I have ever seen, from top to bottom a place that has successfully managed to intercalate itself into the community in a positive way.
I was really looking forward to hearing about how this person had managed to accomplish what so many think is impossible, a game changing way of reforming animal welfare. I was SO enthusiastic, in fact, that I bucked my normal tradition and sat right in the very front. In my jet lagged state it didn’t occur to me to be concerned that nobody else was up there, obliviously staring off into space while those who have seen Mike speak before retreated to the far corners of the room, out of his line of sight.
His story, if you haven’t heard it before, is very compelling. His description of the moment that changed his life, promising to devote his life to saving animals if he would just survive the vicious attack he endured after trying to save a dog, already had us primed for tears. And then he pointed at me.
I can only assume that while he is telling the story of his life, he scans the audience looking for a sucker who is appropriately dew-eyed already. That would be me. I think you all know I’m a sap. I turn the channel during all those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials, I couldn’t do the terminal procedures in vet school, that sort of thing. He knows what he’s doing.
I was really excited to go up there for this mystery scenario. Would I put on a silly hat like they do at Cirque du Soleil? Maybe he’d ask me about my experiences with shelters? Get an autographed Helen Woodward Center mug?
“Nice to meet you,” he said. “You’re about to really hate me.”
The he hands me a three page letter and asks me to read it to the crowd. I look down. “I gas dogs and cats for a living,” I begin. Oh, !#!@$.
Perhaps you have read this letter before. It’s here should you want to experience it for yourself, though I would probably rate it up there with live video of seal clubbing on the emotional distress scale. It’s bad.
So now here I am, hi everyone, welcome to BlogPaws, I’m going to talk about gassing dogs now. I got through maybe a quarter of it before I started sniffling, then I told Mike that he was correct, I did hate him. I made it to the halfway point, where the writer tells how he goes to the drive-thru every Thursday after work and buys $50 worth of cheeseburgers for the doomed dogs, when I realized the letters on the page were too blurry to read.
I paused to wipe my eyes, the dull silence punctuated only by the gasping sobs of everyone else in the audience. We are all puddles of mortification at this point. I don’t think the Toastmasters have an FAQ on handling this situation: “What to do when your speech is the audio equivalent of the Jonestown Kool-Aid.” Horrifying.
Finally, Mike took pity on me and told me to stop before we got to the graphic description of actually gassing the dogs. Until I wrote this post I never actually went back to look at what was in the rest of the letter. There is absolutely no way I could have finished it.
I slunk back to my seat, appalled at what I had read as well as my own inability to overcome the horror of it. His message at its core was pretty straightforward: THIS is what we’re fighting against. It’s not enough to just be sad. We need to be so clear about the depth of this challenge and the importance of what we are aiming for that we will push those emotions aside and cast in their place a real determination, a commitment to put aside fear and doubt and ego and apply some real world intellectual business solutions to change the way we view saving animals. Brilliant.
The keynote is here should anyone wish to see it. Feel free to forward over my part. I’m not exactly endorsing you watching what is clearly not my finest moment here, but I’ll put that vanity aside here because the message is so worth hearing. So worth it.
After the session I lost count of the people who came up to me and offered a hug or a pat on the back. They inevitably said two things, in this order:
“I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
“I’m so GLAD it wasn’t me.”
I’m glad too. Isn’t that weird? I appreciate being confronted with that reality in such a stark way. Thank you, Mike. But now you owe me a drink.